Disco Dancing

Disco Dancing Around Lyrics To Avoid Song Rights Infringement

Recently I fielded an author interview question, what soundtrack would you put to your novel?

My first thought, albeit off-track, was do you know how tricky it is to weave song mentions and inherent themes into a book without including actual lyrics? Because to do so is a no-no, unless you manage the near impossible and expensive purchase of the right to use song lyrics.

I’m not advocating that authors shouldn’t have to obtain authorization to publish song lyrics written and owned by others in their works. I’m simply noting how one has to get creative to reference a tune without infringing on the songwriter’s copyright—when you can’t afford to pay for them and likely couldn’t obtain such a deal anyway.

It’s often been a challenge to step around lyrics—in my most recent Other Worldly novel Altogether Alien, that would be a disco dancing step—in a roundabout (disco ball?) way that evokes the tune without overstepping the bounds of property rights—and propriety.

For some songs, using only the title can be enough to get an author’s point across. Take, for instance, “Disco Duck.” If you forgot about it from the seventies, you might wish I hadn’t evoked the memory in Altogether Alien. It’s a goofy tune comprised of not exactly Grammy-worthy lyrics, but it’s perfect for a campy, funny scene invoking shades of Saturday Night Fever.

Come to think of it, the entire sound track to Saturday Night Fever might work for Altogether Alien, along with a completely different Broadway musical hit from Annie, “Tomorrow,” for reasons involving a certain Red Orbiter alien girl who is determined to be an actress. It might only be a day away before she accomplishes this. See how I did that?

Kind of like Rowan Layne asking herself if she feels lucky today after recalling a certain song from the nineties upon waking and thinking perhaps she should just stay in bed in Alienable Rights, the novel that kicked off my Other Worldly series. A good soundtrack for it would include not only “I Feel Lucky” by Mary Chapin Carpenter, but also “Make You Feel My Love,” from the movie Hope Floats,  and the Eagles singing “Desperado,” the latter two having symbolic lyrics for Rowan’s first alien love interest.

Another song appearing in Alienable Rights is called “Venus,” because Rowan’s friend turns out to have DNA from the planet second from the sun. As in, she’s got it. Do you get it? Do you remember a similar refrain from that seventies song?

Another fun time I had using song titles and themes in my Other Worldly novels (in addition to “Disco Duck” in Altogether Alien) was in Aliens Abound, third in the series.

Wherein, a New Year’s Eve party on Earth’s moon comes complete with a red disco ball, an unintended theme as I’m not particularly enamored of disco, but red orbs are prominent in my novels. There’s a DJ playing tunes referencing the moon (I am enamored of many things lunar-related). Songs include “Moondance,” “Bad Moon Rising,” Walking On The Moon,” “Blue Moon,” “Bark At The Moon,” and more.

Plus, the lunar NYE party attendees also had James Bond-themed attire, so any theme song from a Bond film would be fitting for the soundtrack to Aliens Abound, especially Moonraker.

Not a lot of songs so far in my latest Other Worldly novel in progress, Aliens Watch, but I do reference the US national anthem known as “The Star-Spangled Banner,” specifically the phrase rocket’s red glare. It’s not as much fun when it’s about a violent fictional domestic anti-alien organization, but the snark resulting from a group calling themselves PG, as in Patriot’s Glare, will be gratifying. Like “Disco Duck” in Altogether Alien.

Quack Quack! And keep moving those feet—or fingers on the keyboard—to whatever beat suits your fancy. Can ya dig it? I knew that ya could.


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